“Today is the day.” Asami smiled as she fell into step beside Opal. “Are you ready?”
“I’m so nervous.” Opal shook her head and hugged her books tighter to her chest. “I’m not, like, expecting to make varsity.... but it would be so cool!”
“Well, I’m expecting you to,” Asami said. “I’ve spent the past two weeks writing and rewriting my predictions for the lineup. You’re gonna make varsity. I’m gonna make varsity, and we’re gonna keep on playing together and kicking ass.”
Opal cracked a smile. “Taking names.”
“Exactly.” Asami winked, hoping to set her younger friend at ease.
Opal’s smile grew a bit, but not by much. “I don’t think any sophomore has much of a chance,” she said. “I mean, if that were possible, you would have gotten in last year.”
“You’re way better this year than I was last year,” Asami said, determined to stay upbeat. “Take a deep breath, Opal. We’ve got this. I went over the JV roster and entire varsity roster, minus seniors, from last year. No surprises. We’re both in.”
“Mkay, but you know how Coach is,” Opal said. She clearly didn’t have Asami’s confidence, but at least stopped objecting. Asami didn’t push the subject further.
They kept pace beside one another for a minute in silence, speed-walking toward the gym. They rounded a corner and Asami squinted. In the distance, she could see the soccer team captain, Kuvira, pin the results to the bulletin board beside the girls’ locker room.
“There it is!” Asami could have squealed, but tried to keep her cool. She started walking faster toward the listing. “Come on!”
Opal paused before hurrying up beside Asami. They arrived right as Captain Kuvira was stepping away. She turned toward them and Asami stood up a bit straighter. She resisted the urge to lean to the side and look around Kuvira at the listing.
The captain regarded them both, impassive for a long moment. “Congratulations,” she said, cracking a rare, small smile. “I’ll see you at practice.”
Kuvira turned on her heel and walked away before Asami could pull together a response. After a beat, she and Opal both called a harried Thank You after her.
Kuvira, always cool, just raised a hand in response, not looking back.
It took a beat for Asami to remember the list. She practically jumped forward when she did, tossing her hair over one shoulder out of habit as her eyes darted to the paper titled ‘VARSITY.’ She skimmed down a list of familiar names. Finding her own, she immediately straightened up. “Yes!”
Hardly a second later, Asami heard a breathless, disappointed, “No...”
She dropped her own celebration instantly. “What? Opal do you mean...?”
“I didn’t make varsity,” Opal said, looking away. A tortured second later, she whipped back around and ran her finger down the JV list. She seemed to deflate slightlyupon finding her name. “Well... at least I’m a starter this year,” she said.
Asami pulled her friend into a side hug, but her gaze was fixed on the varsity list. She’d looked away upon finding her own name, but every name before that was one she’d predicted. If Opal hadn’t made it, she’d been wrong about someone.
She ran her eyes down the list until they fell upon an unfamiliar name. Asami frowned.
“Who the hell is Korra?”
She looked at Opal, who had opened her mouth to reply. Before she could, someone shouted, “Ha! I’m Korra!” Asami turned right as a long-haired brunette practically burst through the space between her and Opal, launching herself at the listings.
Asami blinked. The stranger was clearly a water tribe girl, from her hair to her armband. Her name, which was apparently Korra, gave that away too.
“WHOO! I made it!” Korra whipped around and held up a hand for a high five.
Incredulous, Asami watched Opal numbly raise her hand. Korra smacked it and grinned.
“Congratulations,” Opal said. Asami knew her friend well enough to know it was a genuine sentiment.
“Thank you,” Korra said. She glanced at her phone. “I’d love to talk more about the team, but I have to get going. I’ll see you both around!”
And just like that, Korra disappeared. She dashed off and rounded a corner, seeming to take all the air out of the room as she went. Asami released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. In doing so, she felt her temper rising. “I can’t believe you lost your spot to her...” She clenched her fists. “My prediction was perfect except for that Korra chick. Where did she come from anyway?”
“Hey, Asami, it’s okay.” Opal smiled a bit to one side. “And she didn’t take my spot. It wasn’t mine to lose. She won a slot on the team, it just happens to be that we both thought it would be mine.”
Asami sighed. “I still don’t like her,” she said.
Opal chuckled. “I’m sure you’ll like her better as you get to know her. At least I hope so. You’ll be teammates soon enough.”
“Great.” Asami deadpanned. They started walking to the mobile lot. “She’s got to be a transfer, right? I haven’t seen her around Republic City High before.”
“Probably,” Opal said. “I think she’s in my English class.”
Asami stopped. “Wait,” she said. “Korra’s a sophomore?” Her eye twitched.
Opal’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Huh, I guess so.” They regarded one another in silence before Opal smiled slightly. The expression pulled unevenly to one side. “Apparently it is possible for sophomores to make varsity,” she said. “At least now we know?”
Asami’s eye wouldn’t stop twitching. Opal, for her part, actually seemed less stressed than before. Sadder, but calmer. She blinked at Asami a few times, frowning. After a pause, she laughed nervously. “Well, I’m sure you’ll like her better as you get to know her.”
“Right.” Asami said. She disagreed, thoroughly, but didn’t want to say it right away.
As a matter of fact, Asami did not like Korra better as she got to know her.
“By the spirits, would it kill you to pass?” Asami glared at Korra, but the other girl ignored her entirely as they approached the goal. Granted, that had been the status quo for the duration of this scrimmage game: Asami grumbling and Korra seeming to forget that passing was something she could do at all.
Asami would have strangled her, except Korra’s fancy footwork—Asami paused her thought a moment to watch the water tribe girl nimbly dodge around a defender—had managed to score two goals.
In spite of herself, Asami had to admire Korra’s form as, not passing AGAIN she turned her double into a hat trick.
Granted, Korra might have pulled off an assist or three if she, you know, actually fucking passed the ball. Asami glared at her right as Korra glanced back toward her.
Asami watched Korra’s eyes widen with surprise as they ran back to their positions. Korra glanced around her quickly, as if Asami might be glaring at someone else. Clearly, hints were hopeless. Asami huffed and rolled her eyes, trying to focus on the opposing team.
Whenever she glanced back at Korra, however, the other girl’s blue eyes seemed to flicker away, as if she’d been caught looking at Asami.
Whatever that was about, it didn’t matter. Asami went right up to Kuvira after the scrimmage was over and cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Captain. Could I have a word?”
Kuvira turned and surveyed her cooly. She nodded. “What seems to be the issue.” Kuvira had a habit of making questions sound like flat statements. Asami still wasn’t used to it.
“Well, it had to do with today’s scrimmage, actually.” Asami couldn’t keep a slight grimace off her face. “The new girl, Korra, she, um, she’s not really passing a lot.”
“No, she’s not.” Kuvira didn’t seemed phased by Asami’s complaint.
Asami paused, waiting a moment for Kuvira to continue, but she didn’t say anything else. Asami blinked, then continued, “Yes, well, as the attacking midfielder, I think the striker needs to pass more. To me and to the other forwards.”
Kuvira nodded, stretching out her calves. “I agree fully.” She paused a moment, eyes intent on Asami’s. “As the attacking midfielder, you need to have a good relationship with the forwards, especially the striker.”
Something in Asami’s stomach clenched. “I was hoping you would speak with her, actually, Captain.”
The captain silently continued stretching for a few long seconds. “And if I showed up, scary and intimidating, and ordered her to pass, how would that go?”
Asami frowned, unsure where this was going. Kuvira was... an intimidating person. Asami wasn’t the sort to back down, but she knew better than to pick some fights. Korra seemed like the rebellious sort, but, at the same time, staying on the team and keeping her position seemed important to her. “Korra would do it, of course.”
“Yes,” Kuvira said. “But the organization and synergy of the team would not be the same.” A pause. Kuvira’s expression shifted, just slightly. “Coach wants me to do less, ahem, fascist-fear-leadership is what she calls it. So, in response to that feedback, I want you to talk to her yourself. I want you two to work out your differences and reach a point where you’re playing cohesively together.”
“Starting tomorrow, you’re partners for conditioning.” Kuvira continued as if she hadn’t heard Asami. “I will notify her of that, at least. I expect you two to match one another on the field and off the field. From what I saw today, you might not have quite her endurance.”
Before Asami could object further, the captain got up and nodded. “I see good potential in your combination,” she said. “Do not disappoint me.”
She walked off, leaving Asami mired in her own disappointment. Still a bit too terrified to say something behind the captain’s back, Asami kept her comments to herself and quietly started to dread being stuck with Korra for conditioning.
Kuvira apparently let Coach Lin know that Asami and Korra were supposed to be paired up for conditioning. As far as Asami could guess, Coach Lin had heard that and decided conditioning wasn’t enough. The next practice, Asami found herself consistently paired with Korra for receiving exercises. At least Korra was forced to keep her obnoxious (though still talented) footwork to a minimum while they were running specific drills.
Asami even took some small pleasure in finally getting the ball during passing drills. She debated calling something over to Korra with that general sentiment, but decided against it. Maybe, if they just kept practicing and passing, Korra would pick up on the concept on her own.
And, despite Asami’s reservations, Korra proved to be a decent practice partner. Coach Lin and Kuvira kept practice intense enough that chatting wasn’t exactly possible.
The problem, of course, came with the long-distance conditioning. The issue wasn’t that Asami disliked running. She rather enjoyed it, or she wouldn’t play soccer. The problem was that they’d been assigned to jog through the woods surrounding Republic City High in pairs, so Asami and Korra were stuck together. The bigger problem was that the running was fairly low-intensity, so Korra had some breath to spare.
Though, as Asami’s feet beat a pattern on path around the back of the field, Korra wasn’t saying anything. She just kept looking at Asami, somewhat puzzled.
“You have really green eyes,” Korra said at length. Although she was a couple inches shorter than Asami, Korra had a naturally quick pace and easily matched Asami’s longer legs.
“Yeah,” Asami said. “What about it?”
“Which side of your family are they from? You look pretty solidly Fire Nation to me.”
Asami resisted the urge to grimace. Aside from her eyes, her features were almost exclusively classical Fire Nation. This fact had been pointed out to her numerous times. She sighed, or at least sighed as well as she could with the running. “My mom’s family has been in Republic City for a few generations,” she said. “They’ve always been very Fire Nation, but someone married someone from the Earth Kingdom at some point and the green eyes snuck in.”
“Huh,” Korra said. She glanced forward before looking back at Asami. “That’s kind of cool. We don’t get a lot of people with mixed heritage in the water tribes.” She paused, then grimaced. “At least not that kind of mixed.”
For about thirty seconds or so, Asami resisted her curiosity. As they rounded a bend, however, it got the best of her. “Do you mean like... mixing between the northern and southern tribes?”
“Yeah.” Korra sounded kind of absent. “My dad’s northern and my mom is southern. There was some drama about it.”
“That sounds rough.” Asami frowned. She hadn’t meant to get interested, but Korra had been so genuinely curious about her that it was hard not to express some empathy. Asami took a draught from her water bottle before continuing, “There’s always been some curiosity, but no drama from my family about that sort of thing.” Their feet pounded on the dirt path in unison. “I’m sorry you had to deal with drama about it.”
“It died down eventually,” Korra said. She took a drink from her own water bottle, then shot Asami a curious glance. “So you never got weird looks at school or whatever?”
“Nope.” Asami thought about Mako and Bolin, brothers with markedly different features that spoke to their mixed heritage. “I’m sure things are different when you leave the city, but I grew up here and it’s never mattered much, with me or with anyone.”
They ran together in silence for a minute. Korra looked like she was considering what Asami had said. It was strange to hear nothing but the sound of their footfalls after their conversation. Stranger still was that Asami almost missed it. She was always content to run in silence, but talking with Korra had been, oddly, nice.
“That sounds great,” Korra said wistfully. “To have it not matter. It’s different in the water tribes, especially in the north.” Korra didn’t seem to notice her stride pick up. Asami adjusted her pace to stay beside her as she listened. “In the north you have to prove yourself before people look past southern blood.” Her breathing gave the words a harsh edge. “It’s so dumb, because you can’t even see a difference, usually.” Korra snorted. She still hadn’t stopped a slight, but steady, acceleration. “We’re the same people, you know?”
“Yeah...” Asami had heard there were tensions between the Northern Water Tribe and the Southern Water Tribe, but she hadn’t realized the prejudice was that abject. “So you played soccer there too?” It was a bit harder to keep talking since they were running faster, but she wasn’t about to ask Korra to slow down.
“Yep.” Korra’s pace leveled off, so they weren’t speeding up, but she hadn’t slowed down to their original speed. Her breathing came in shorter bursts. “The game is played a little differently there.”
Asami was glad as the path started rounding back toward the practice field. She could run all day at their earlier rate, but she was tiring at this faster one. “Oh yeah? Like how?”
“It’s cooler.” Korra said. “Less sweating.”
“Sounds fantastic,” Asami wiped her forehead.
“Yeah. Gameplay style is different too.”
Before Asami could stop herself, her frustrations from before manifested into a question. “Do they pass the ball, up where you come from?”
Asami immediately regretted the quip. As a person, she tried not to be passive aggressive. Still... given what she’d learned of Korra’s personality, she expected a snarky reply, a quick comeback.
Instead, unease curled in Asami’s stomach as Korra paused, her feet falling in an uneven cadence, before saying, “Yeah, but not to me.” Her voice sounded absent and breathy as they came out of the woods near the edge of the practice field.
Before Asami could apologize or say something to acknowledge Korra’s revelation, the other girl pointed at their gathered teammates. “Looks like everyone’s back,” she said. “Race you!” And with that, she took off, leaving Asami a few beats behind before she got into a side-burning sprint.
First games were always rough. Asami reminded herself of that as she dribbled the ball down the left wing. The Republic City Rebels’ usual strategy was in shambles. Asami wasn’t where she was supposed to be, but there wasn’t much to do about it.
Ten seconds on the clock. One point to break the tie.
There were too many defenders in the way. Nobody to pass to. Asami might have tried to pull off some of Korra’s fancy footwork, but not like this.
Instead of trying to dodge through the players blocking her, Asami geared up and kicked the ball, hard. It arced through the air toward the goal, but she could instantly see it was off-base. It would go wide to the right; the goalie wouldn’t even need to catch it.
And then, right as Asami’s hopeless last kick was about to miss, Korra came in out of nowhere.
Leaping up from a dead sprint, Korra seemed to hang in the air for a moment right before she headbutted the ball into the goal.
Asami screamed. The crowd went wild. Korra landed unsteadily and ran off the sideline into a massive team-hug right as the buzzer went off. Asami ran over and joined in the massive pile-up with Korra at the center.
For a blissful moment, nothing was complicated. Everything felt perfect. Asami laughed and cheered with the rest of the team. Korra pointed right at Asami and was trying to say something, but a couple other girls took that moment to lift Korra on their shoulders and her words lost themselves in the celebration.
And possibly for the best. As the cheering continued, Asami drifted away from the group to gather her things from the bleachers. She didn’t do well in extended crowding. And, besides all that, Opal was waiting for her.
“You did a great job,” she said as Asami approached. “That setup was perfect.” Although she hadn’t been needed this game, Opal had been in attendance as a backup player.
Asami smiled at her and rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously, lifting her ponytail up as she sat down beside Opal. “That wasn’t exactly a planned maneuver,” she admitted.
“Even still,” she replied. “You did really well.” She glanced around oddly and Asami frowned.
“Is something wrong, Opal?”
“No. No.” She fidgeted with her bangs. “Nothing’s wrong.”
Asami started packing her water bottle into her bag, slipping off her cleats and shinguards. “Is this about still being on JV?”
Opal blinked at her a moment, then shook her head and laughed a bit. “Oh no. I’m mostly over that. I get to be a star JV starter this year, and a backup varsity player sometimes. I know I’ll make the team next year.” A beat. Opal’s smile wavered. “At least I’m pretty sure. Coach Lin, she, uh, doesn’t acknowledge me much. But she picked me to be one of today’s backup players, so that has to mean something, right?”
Asami paused her packing to glance at Opal. Her friend wouldn’t quite meet her eyes. “I’m sure it means nothing but good things,” Asami said softly. Coach Lin wasn’t the sort of person who let her personal life mix with her job, but the tension she had with Opal’s mother wasn’t exactly a secret.
“Yeah,” Opal murmured. A few long moments passed, then she sat up straighter and hugged her packed duffel back to her chest. “Anyway, aside from being the combination for that stunning final goal, what’s it like working with Korra?”
Asami blanched, even as she internally tempered her dislike. The Korra she’d been getting to know was more than just a showboating asshole, even if she still wasn’t great at passing. “It’s been alright,” she said. “We’re not meshing very well, still.”
“You’re not a bad team though,” Opal observed. “Even aside from that last epic goal, you two have a good synergy on the field.”
“It has gotten better,” Asami admitted. “That win... it was flashy and fun, but we wouldn’t have needed flashy if Korra would get better at passing. She was fairly dismal with it in the first half, even if she did score that goal.”
Opal shrugged. “Fair enough, but I still think you two are developing some field chemistry. I was watching your practice the other day and you two were right beside each other the whole time on those dribbling drills”
“We’ve been paired up, unfortunately,” Asami said flatly. She stood up. “You ready to go?”
Opal nodded and got to her feet. She wavered a moment, then said, “You should invite Korra to our post-game party.”
Asami blinked. “Huh?” She glanced over at the rest of the team. They were just now making their way over to pack up. Korra seemed perfectly at home among them. Asami smiled. “Someone else will invite her to another one, if they haven’t already.” It would be a little late to insert herself and ask Korra now, plus it would be awkward if she already had a different invite.
“Probably,” Opal said, “But if you’re her practice partner, it might be nice if you—Oh, Bolin!” Mako’s younger brother came bounding over and, without hesitation, Opal switched topics. “It’s good to see you, Bolin,” she said.
“Hey, Opal. Asami. Great assist by the way.” Bolin grinned. Although he’d only just entered high school, he and Opal were already establishing a pattern of flirtation. Also, somehow, he’d managed to snag the manager position for the girls’ soccer teams, giving him and Opal plenty of opportunities to banter with one another. “Are you two ready to get to the party?”
“Of course,” Opal said. “We’re ready.”
Asami rolled her eyes and followed along behind her younger friends. As she passed by the rest of the team, however, she waved at Korra and caught her eye. Korra waved back and grinned. Without hesitation, Asami smiled back. They weren’t a team yet, but... Opal was at least partly right. Asami was slowly getting more used to Korra, and she honestly didn’t mind much.
“Spirits, be gentle!”
Korra rolled her eyes. “If you’d been gentle on yourself, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Asami grimaced and crossed her arms as Korra applied a steady pressure against the ball of her foot. Her calf ached in response and Asami bit back a groan. Okay maybe it had been her fault. She’d stayed a little late to grab some homework and wound up missing warm-up. Of course, she could have stopped and stretched on her own, but she hadn’t.
Asami leaned back against the bench as comfortably as possible. “Thank you,” she said eventually.
Korra reduced the pressure for a moment and smiled. “It’s no problem. We’ll get back in there as soon as your cramp is gone.” She pushed against Asami’s foot again, increasing the pressure from before.
“Nnnngh.” Asami grimaced. “Why do cramps even exist?”
“This kind, or the other kind?” Korra asked.
“Spirits I’m glad I don’t have those right now,” Asami said. “But I meant this kind, the exercise kind.”
“Oh, in that case it’s muscle overuse, lack of stretching before physical activity, or holding a position for a prolonged period of time.” She paused, considering for a moment. “Oh, and you probably weren’t drinking a lot of water today, if I were to guess.”
Asami blinked. She hadn’t been serious about asking, and if she had, she wouldn’t have expected Korra to have an answer. After a moment, she said, “I forgot my water bottle today. I hadn’t even thought about it earlier.”
“That’ll do it.” Korra shifted her grip against Asami’s foot and slowly applied alternating periods of greater and lesser pressure. Even through the pain, it felt kind of nice. More than nice, she could feel it clearly relieving her cramped calf.
“You really know your stuff, Korra.” Asami smiled.
A faint shade of pink colored Korra’s cheeks. “Thank you,” she said. A few beats passed and Korra chuckled. “I’m still working on figuring out when and how to do that ‘passing’ thing, but I’m trying my best.”
Asami felt a shameful blush color her cheeks. Remembering the potential root of Korra’s disinclination to pass... she felt petty and mean for having harped on it quite so much. Yes it was a problem, but even with that problem they were doing alright. Korra was getting better about the passing with each game they played.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I never meant to harangue you about it.”
“To what me about it?” Korra wrinkled her nose.
“Sorry. Harangue means... to rant and lecture at someone forever.” Defining the term further, Asami felt even more embarrassed. She would have discreetly excused herself from the conversation, except she had a cramp and could barely walk. Her cheeks felt warm. “You really have been better about it lately,” she said.
“That would be the sentiment behind ‘I’m trying my best,’” Korra said. An edge lined her voice; she clearly didn’t like the implied criticism that the extended exchange carried.
Asami reached for words that would actually convey what she meant. “Sorry again. I mean...” She sighed. “I guess I just wanted to say that I’m really impressed. It’s hard work to change your playstyle. And I guess I wanted to assure you that... whatever anxieties and prejudices your last team had, you don’t have to worry about that with me.” She smiled, leaning closer toward Korra. The action pained her leg, but it felt like a good sort of pain, the stretching kind.
“I’ve never viewed you negatively because of your heritage, and if you ever needed to prove anything to me, it’s proven.” Asami briefly remembered her initial (strong) dislike for Korra. That sentiment felt far away as they sat in the grass together, and Asami looked her in the eye. “You’re really good. Not even like good-for-a-sophomore. You’re just good and provided you’re in position, I will always pass to you. You don’t have to worry that passing the ball to me is a one-way street.”
Korra’s hands kept stretching Asami’s leg, but the action seemed disconnected from Korra herself as a breeze swept through, whipping her high ponytail in the wind. “Thank you,” she said at length, voice soft.
“That’s the way a team should be,” Asami said. She hadn’t meant to, but her voice dropped to match Korra’s volume. “I’m sorry you were ever treated differently.” She hesitated, biting her lip. For some reason the next words seemed to catch in her throat. “I... I’m not here to cut you out, Korra.”
The words hung between them, ringing with sincerity and a mutual understanding. When the moment passed, Korra started talking about strategy and Asami eagerly added to the conversation, but something had changed. If someone had asked Asami afterward who her friends on the team were, she would have included Korra on the list and only questioned it after.
Asami smiled as Korra strolled over, drink in hand. “Hey, I’m glad to see that you’re having a good time.”
Korra grinned back at her. “Well, thanks for inviting me! I’ve gone to some of the other post-game parties, but I think I like this one best.”
Strolling over to a bench, Asami asked, “What’s different about this one?”
“It’s more chill.” The two of them sat down together.
Asami pulled her thin jacket closer around her. “Well the semester is wearing on,” she observed. Only the excessively innocuous tone gave away her joke.
Korra laughed, nudging Asami with her elbow. “That’s not what I meant. C’mon. I mean... here, I get less of a sense of people jockeying for status, I guess.” She wrinkled her nose. “Other places, everyone is trying to talk to the right person and pull off the right moves, but here everyone is just hanging with whoever they want to hang with.” Korra slumped back against the bench, sipping her soda.
“Huh. I think I can see that.” They sat together in a comfortable silence. It occurred to Asami that, by that logic, Korra was with her because Asami was someone she wanted to hang with. She found the idea oddly comforting, almost affirming. It warmed her, fighting against the cold.
Korra, for her part, didn’t seem affected by the chill at all. She finished her drink and set it down beside the bench. “Aren’t you cold?” Asami asked. Korra’s tank top showed off her muscled shoulder as she sat back. Asami kept wondering where Korra got all her upper body definition, given that she played soccer, but always felt too embarrassed to ask.
Korra laughed. “Not in the least,” she said. “Growing up Water Tribe will do that to you.” She frowned. “Are you too chilly? Do we need to go inside?”
“No. No it’s alright.” Asami smiled. “I want to stay out here, just with you.”
As soon as she’d said it, she felt stupid. The words seemed to linger, meaning more than she intended. At least more than she’d intentionally intended. Asami maintained a neutral expression, although she couldn’t help a ghost of a smile flickering at the corners of her lips.
Korra didn’t even notice her internal struggle. She just grinned, tucking her hair behind one ear. “That’s fine with me,” she said. She flung one arm over the back of the bench. “But you might as well sit a little closer then. I’m pretty hot, as a rule, so you won’t be so cold.”
Asami nearly snorted. The last part sounded like some sort of pickup line, except that it was just Korra, being absolutely sincere. “Sounds like a plan to me,” she said, leaning against Korra.
The other girl wrapped her arm around Asami’s shoulders and, after a few moments, Asami did start to feel warmer.
They were chatting about the last game when Bolin rounded the corner and saw them. His expression shifted and he seemed incredibly awkward. Asami was about to call out a greeting, but he backpedaled so fast she didn’t have the chance to. She frowned. “I wonder what got into him.”
“I dunno.” Korra shrugged, tugging on Asami’s shoulder as she did so. “So what got you started playing anyway?”
Though curious about Bolin, Asami fell easily back into their prior conversation. “My father encouraged my ambitions in, well, everything.” She chuckled. “School, sports, Pai Sho. All of it, he was happy to push me to be the best I could. When I was a girl, I started playing soccer and at some point I decided I liked it best out of the other sports I played.”
Korra smiled. “That’s really cool, Asami. It sounds like you’re really close with your dad.”
“Yeah. We’ve always been very close...” She trailed off and paused. If someone had asked her if she planned on opening up to Korra, she would have said no. Sitting there beside her, leaned close with Korra’s arm wrapped around her shoulders, she continued speaking. “After my mom died, we kind of banded together, the two of us.”
Korra didn’t say anything, but she started rubbing her thumb against Asami’s shoulder. Asami leaned a little closer. “He’s very busy with Future Industries, but he’s always made time for me, to teach me Pai Sho or a bit of engineering. Whatever I wanted to do.” She paused again, feeling somewhat vulnerable. “He’s very ambitious, and he always encourages me to chase after my own dreams. I guess part of me is worried I’ll let him down somehow, that my dreams won’t be high enough, or that I won’t be able to come up with a vision for Future Industries that will match his founding of it.” Asami took a deep breath. Rather than the cold from before, she felt warm and slightly embarrassed. “Does that make sense?”
She felt Korra nod and turned to see her better. Korra kept her arm steadily around Asami’s shoulders. “It makes sense,” Korra said. “Your dad has been a huge presence in your life. Of course you’d want to live up to the example he’s set forth for you.” She reached around and gave Asami a tight hug. “And I’d bet anything that you’ll do way better than that. You’ll totally blow him out of the water.”
Asami hugged Korra back. The moment lingered until Asami giggled.
Korra pulled back, indignant. “What are you laughing at?”
“It just occurred to me that it’s illegal to gamble underage in Republic City, and then I was trying to imagine what kind of gambling ring would bet on my business prospects and it all started to feel rather silly.” Asami twirled a spare strand of hair around one finger. “Sorry, that’s a little involved. My mind tends to wander sometimes, going strange places.”
Shaking her head, Korra chuckled. “No, I think that’s funny too. If such a place existed, I’d bet on your future success for sure. You’d make me rich by getting rich yourself! It’s a win-win situation.”
Maybe the alcohol from earlier in the evening was going to her head, but Asami felt genuinely touched by Korra’s statement. “I would be more flattered that some professional soccer superstar spending her winning bonuses by gambling on me.”
That made Korra blush, which made her pay Asami even more outrageous comments that Asami just had to return until they were both blushing and laughing together in equal measure.
“AND THE WINNER IS... THE REPUBLIC CITY REEEBBEEEELLLLLLLSSSS!!”
Asami yelled out in triumph with the rest of the team as the announcer declared the final score and their victory in the quarterfinals.
“Asami!” She turned to see Opal running towards her. Asami closed the distance between them and swept her friend up in a hug.
“You were so great!” Asami pulled back and grinned.
“I got to play!” If Asami was excited, Opal was beside herself. “Coach Lin actually fielded me!”
“I know!” Asami had hardly believe her eyes when the coach had waved Opal in as the alternate. Frankly, from the look on her friend’s face, she hadn’t quite believed it either. “It was great to get to play with you again.”
They packed up their bags while recounting every exciting moment, of the ten minutes or so that Opal was on the field. Glancing around when they reached a part where Korra had scored, Asami realized her friend had totally disappeared after the match.
Opal seemed to read something on her face. She stopped at the end of her sentence and tilted her head. “Who are you looking for?”
“Korra.” Asami felt her cheeks warm slightly. She shoved her shinguards in her bag. “Sorry, we were just talking about her and I realized that she must already have gone back to the locker room.”
“You can go ahead,” Opal said. “I’d like to chat with a few other girls are varsity.” A pause. “And maybe talk to my aunt too.”
Asami put a hand on Opal’s shoulder. “You can do it.” Shouldering her bag, she smiled. “We’ll catch up later at the party.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
Asami took off for the locker rooms at a jog, arriving just a few minutes later. There were already a few other girls there, but Korra wasn’t around. Kuvira, however, was.
She cleared her throat. “Um, Captain, have you seen Korra?”
Kuvira nodded her head around the corner. “Just over there, two rows over.”
“Okay thanks.” Asami smiled.
She walked past a couple rows of lockers and rounded the corner right as Korra was toweling her hair off.
“Oh! Asami!” Korra ran a hand through her damp hair and blushed.
“Sorry! I’m sorry.” Asami blushed until her face probably matched the color of the lockers: Republic City Red. “I didn’t think you, um, would have already showered.”
“No, no, it’s fine.” Korra licked her lips. “I, uh, I kind of have a family thing tonight, so I rushed off and forgot to tell you.”
“Oh, so you’re not coming to the party?” Asami blinked, struggling to keep her eyes on Korra’s face. Because they had a rather oversized locker room, most of the girls could change in relative privacy. It occurred to her that it was a damn shame to have not seen Korra wet and partially naked yet.
Asami blushed harder and told herself that it was just a blue towel with nothing of interest beneath it.
Korra shook her head and water droplets fell from her hair onto her collarbones before they started to stream down her body and—Asami looked back up into Korra’s eyes, which were fixed on a corner of the locker room’s ceiling. “I was gonna shower real quick and run.” Her eyes flickered down from the corner and met Asami’s. “I’m glad you caught me.”
“Huh?” Korra rubbed the back of her head, flexing her biceps in the process. Asami blinked, unable to look away from the drops of water on Korra’s skin. “Wha.. what did you mean?”
“I forgot to tell you,” Korra prompted. She started parting her hair out for her water tribe dangles. “So I’m glad you caught me, because now I can tell you.”
“Oh.” Asami licked her lips. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She smiled and slowly forced herself to look elsewhere. Korra’s muscled arms were commonly on display, but the fact that she was in nothing but a towel gave everything an erotic twist.
Korra smiled. “I wouldn’t want you to think that I’d just run off on you.” A faint blush colored her cheeks as she pulled her hair up into a ponytail.
Asami was in the middle of saying, “I would never think that,” when Korra’s towel started fall off.
And in that moment, Asami had two thoughts: First, someone needed to grab the towel. Second, that both of Korra’s hands were occupied.
Before any further thought could occur, Asami lunged forward and grabbed the corners of the towel, holding them up against Korra before any more of her was exposed.
Korra yelped and took half a step back, but did not jump or do anything that would make the situation worse. She looked mostly surprised (with a growing blush), not angry.
For a moment, Asami wondered why she half expected Korra to look angry before she glanced down and visually confirmed that the curve under her hand was, in fact, one of Korra’s breasts.
“Your towel was falling down,” Asami said, voice weak and face red as she carefully adjusted her grip so that she wasn’t feeling Korra up. “Sorry.”
“No, uh, thanks!” Korra finished her ponytail and took the corners of the towel from Asami, re-tucking them so she was covered. “I’d rather you grab them than have the whole thing fall down.”
Asami nodded, trying to ignore the fact that both of them were thinking about Korra’s whole towel falling down.
“So I was going to get dressed—”
“I’m gonna go shower—”
They stopped and smiled, and something about it seemed less awkward than before.
“Thanks for the quick save,” Korra said, a smile curving the corners of her lips. “You’ve got great reflexes.”
“Oh, thanks.” In the middle of debating whether or not Korra was being potentially (???) flirtatious, Asami heard herself say, “You’ve got great, uh, biceps.”
A fierce blush took over her face as Korra laughed. “Well thank you very much, Ms. Sato.” Korra bowed slightly. “We should do this again sometime.”
“Which part?” Asami walked back to the edge of the aisle as Korra gathered her clothes together. Somehow, the sheer level of the situation’s audacity was leaving her more accustomed to it. “The part where you’re dripping water or the part where I accidentally grab your boob?”
Korra scrunched her nose and stuck her tongue out. “Whichever part we feel like.” She winked before turning around, a clear signal that she was about to get dressed.
Asami turned and left Korra’s section of the locker room, pondering changes in relationships and Korra changing.
Her gaze skimmed over Korra a moment before she passed the ball.
Asami tried to double her pace after that, getting into position even as she watched, waiting for Korra to send the ball arching through the air and into the goal.
But she didn’t. Defenders were converging on her, and Korra’s fancy footwork wasn’t cutting it. They’d played this team a few times earlier in the season, and apparently they’d picked up on Korra’s star solo act.
And then, like some intentional reversal of that assumption, the ball zoomed out, rolling right in front of Asami.
A perfect pass, and the defenders had crowded around Korra. Asami took half a moment to line up her shot before—
“GOAL!” The crowd roared to their feet, screaming her name and number.
The clock rang out and Asami laughed. She caught sight of her father cheering for her in the stands before her gaze swept over the field, looking for Korra.
A beat later, she saw Korra, who was looking right at her, grinning. A smile lifted Asami’s cheeks automatically in response. She felt a little high as she started running toward Korra. she felt exhilarated and alive and, paces from each other, Asami realized they were racing together like they were about to kiss.
And, surrounded by victorious shouts, she couldn’t think of a better ending to the season. They ran into each other’s arms and she seized Korra’s shoulders.
Before they could kiss, however, what felt like the entire team bowled into Asami like a tidal wave. Screaming her name, cheering, they knocked her over, on top of Korra, in a gigantic team pile-up.
And instead of a kiss, Korra wrapped her arms around Asami’s shoulders, shouting three times in her ear before she could understand, “You’re amazing!”
Swept up in the team emotions from the group hug to the post-game debrief from a rarely emotional Coach Lin, it wasn’t until they were walking back to the locker room that Asami had a spare moment to talk to Korra. She took a deep breath, then let it all out.
Before she could say something, Korra chuckled and bumped against her shoulder. “What a season, huh?”
“It was wonderful,” Asami said. She’d had plenty of fun last year, playing with Opal on JV, but even if this one had started off rough, she couldn’t deny that she’d had a great time. She took another deep breath, brushing the back of her hand against Korra’s as they walked together. “You know,” she began, “Looking at you, back on that field, you looked so happy with the victory I thought you were about to kiss me.”
She kept the tone light, a half-joke, just in case she was wrong.
Korra’s hand slipped into hers. Asami smiled. She hated being wrong anyway.
“Who said I wasn’t?” Korra kept her tone similarly light, but it had a depth to it that slowed Asami’s stride. She paused, turning at the same time Korra did, hand tightening around hers.
She leaned down, Korra tilted her head up, and they kissed. From that day onward, Korra always tasted a little like victory.